Another case of “Don’t be that photographer” and other weekend photography

I’ve been meaning to take a sunset picture of the Houston Police Officer’s Memorial with the Houston Skyline for a while now. The problem is it’s pretty crowded on weekends and it’s a little out of my way during the week. Friday happened to be the perfect day with beautiful clear weather and with the Good Friday holiday, there was low traffic and there was parking close by. Speaking of parking, there is always a squad car guarding the park and the added benefit is your gear will be safe in the car. Only problem was when I got there, this guy was standing right on top of the monument.
Don't be that guy
Now don’t get me wrong, this is a public space and there were dozens of other people coming and going and snapping a picture, but there is a difference between standing at a respectable distance and not disturbing others than being on top of it for over an hour. I’m not sure what he was doing but I’m guessing it was a time-lapse. He wasn’t even taking a picture of the monument and could have just as easily took a timelapse of downtown from the grounds. But no, he wanted that extra 7 feet of height. Well buddy, next time bring a ladder.

Houston skyline as viewed from Houston Police Officer's Memorial

So thanks to him, I missed the sunset and just took an evening picture. The foreground was much darker than the background so I decided to gel my SB-800 and add a little fill. It’s so subtle that it’s not even noticeable but trust me, it helped. The added bonus I hope was that it messed up the other guy’s time-lapse.

The only other photography I did this weekend was take a few pictures of the Austin based MilkDrive concert at Market Square Park in downtown Houston. Last time I took pictures there was using my 80-200mm f/2.8 and this time I had the 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 with VR. This is the sort of situation where f/2.8 comes in very handy but without VR, with the old lens I had to use faster shutter speeds and so even though I had to use a slightly higher ISO, I actually got away with using a slower shutter speed thanks to the VR. It’s not as if they’re moving fast so stopping motion at 1/160 is no problem.

These shots were more than 200mm since I didn’t want to be “that guy” and get in front of everybody else :)


With random colors, black and white comes in handy



Few pictures from the 2014 Houston Japan Festival

2014 Houston Japan Festival

It was about time for me to actually visit the Houston Japan Festival. A few years ago I went to a related event taking portraits of models dressed in traditional garb but never to the actual event. As far as Houston events go, this is very fun and family friendly. Unlike the International Festival (ifest) where you have to pay to even get in the gate, this is a free event to get to and while you enjoy the food, drinks, and other goodies that you buy, the entertainment and the atmosphere is free.

Even though the light was switching from dull and overcast to horrible and harsh ever 10 seconds, I was pretty happy with the pictures of the Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko. I love bright colors. I started shooting these in manual mode but eventually, I gave up and just used Aperture Priority with a +.7 compensation.
I don’t think I could have taken this picture with anything other than a D600/D610 or D800. On the left you have dark clouds (you can’t really see them) and on the right has bright sun. The D610 had just enough dynamic range to cover both extremes.
Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko

Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko

Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko

Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko

The rest of the time was spent walking around and meeting with people I knew but I can’t resist taking pictures of interesting people and animals.

2014 Houston Japan Festival

The following day, I was in the area so decided to bring my 80-400 AF-S to the Japanese Garden pond where I remember seeing some birds the previous day. It was an overcast day again and this is a slower lens at f/5.6 on the long end so I decided to fully trust the technology. My shots were mostly wide open at f/5.6 using Aperture Priority WITH Auto-ISO with 1600 as the max with a +.7 compensation as I felt the shots were underexposed. Oh and the VR was turned on and all these were hand-held.

I have to say that I’m VERY happy with the 80-400 f/4-5.6 AF-S VR. Of course I had to pump up my ISO (auto-ISO picked 1600) to make up for the slower lens, but the VR was absolutely amazing. I don’t think I could have even handhold my old 80-200 f/2.8 lens but the VR on this lens is like a steel trap. Added to that is the lens is very sharp wide open. The Night Heron picture (the big vertical one) is one that wasn’t cropped much so you can see the full quality. I highly recommend this overpriced lens.

Blue Jay

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Green Heron

Favorite Austin photography spots with the Nikon D610

I knew I would be in Austin this past weekend and because of that, I wanted to make sure and order the Nikon D610 a few weeks before that. As previously posted, I owned the D600 for over a year, so the controls were not a factor as the two are nearly identical; however, this would be the big test to see whether the D610 would have the same annoying sensor spot issues as the D600 hand. In short, the D610 was flawless. I shot at f/8 and above many times and not one single spec of dust or oil. I think the D610 is the perfect camera for my photography needs – mostly urban and nature. Austin is the perfect city for both.

This was actually the last picture I took in my trip. It’s the north side of the State Capital at sunrise. I was there in the previous afternoon and it was the worst time to be on the north end of the building as far as lighting, but early in the morning was perfect. Free parking would end at exactly 7 am (and I wouldn’t have time to run to the meter and come back) so this picture was taken at around 6:50 am, about 25 minutes before sunrise on a partly cloudy morning. If I would have left just 10 minutes earlier, the sky would have been black.
Texas State Capital at Sunrise
I don’t think I could come close to taking this picture with my old Nikon D90 and not just because of not having a wide enough lens for DX. The capital building is much brighter than the underground lighting and quite a spectacular scene to see in person. The extra dynamic range really makes this picture. The spot before that was the Bullock Texas State History Museum:

Bullock Texas State  History Museum early in the morning

Bullock Texas State  History Museum early in the morning

The Pennybacker /Loop 360 Bridge was also on my list of places to visit for the sunset the day before. It’s not the spectactular picture I was hoping for, but it’s a breathtaking view in person. Most people go to the other end but I wanted to capture the setting sun. I ran into a lady who lived in the area and she told me the trail behind there had some nice views too but someone had put a block with “private property” on there. She didn’t think it was legit as she had lived there for a long time and suspected kids had done it so they can do “other things”. She was dead on because as the sun had set, I saw a group of High School looking kids going down the trail.
The Pennybacker Bridge at sunset

The other end is much more popular. Both sides are kind of dangerous if you’re a moron who gets too close to the edge. I saw a few of those too.

The Pennybacker Bridge in Austin, Texas

Before that, I was at Town Lake/ Ladybird Lake area. It’s always a great spot whether it’s cold and rainy like last time or this time when the weather was perfect:

Town Lake

Town Lake

I finally got to see the Oasis as well. Another breathtaking view, but the actual commercial area looked like a ghost town
Oasis on Lake Travis

The State capital is always a great spot during the day time too. You can go inside and see things up close. No matter what you think of Texas politics, this is a beautiful and majestic building.
Texas House of Representatives

Texas Capital Rotunda

Texas Capital Rotunda

This was just a full weekend of photography. Before going to Austin, I was in Houston for the Hermann Park Kite festival.
Hermann Park Kite Festival

Again, shooting at high fstops in blue skies and not a single spec of dust.

First photographs and impressions of the Nikon D610

The Architects of Air @ Discovery Green

I Decided to take my new Nikon D610 for a test drive this past weekend. I didn’t really want to do photograph gymnastics and push up the ISO to 6400 and see how it would look. I owned the D600 for over a year and it’s the same sensor so I know the low light performance is damn good. The best news was there was no oil and dust. End of review.

The first day I took this out to the Architects of Air at Discovery Green park, but the line was entirely too long and I wasn’t going to pay $25 to cut in line to see a glorified bouncy house with fancy colors. So I just took this from the outside. It was overcast but the sky pictures don’t show any oil spots.
The Architects of Air @ Discovery Green

The rest were at Rice University.
James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”  Skyspace

James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”

James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”  Skyspace

James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”  Skyspace

Plensa’s ‘Mirror’ sculpture

Why @Nikonusa deserves all the bad press they are getting over the D600 dust/oil issue

I just ordered the D610 and since I have resolved my own issue with the D600 (ok, Nikon gave my money back), I had promised myself I wasn’t going to make another D600 post, but they have been in the news lately and Nikon and their D600 have been the punching bag of the camera world.  There are reports of not one but three class action lawsuits and just this week it was reported that a Chinese news station had done a story that led to the government stepping in and banning sales in China.   Nikon gets some credit now because 18 months after the problem started, they FINALLY offfered everybody to send in the camera, though they still have not admitted to fault directly and what caused the problem.

I have been a Nikon fan for a while so I almost felt sorry for them….almost.  Until I remembered how rude they were to me when I first wrote them about the issue my D600 had.   It’s hard to feel bad for a company who not only sells a defective product, but doubles down on denying there was an issue.

My first interaction with Nikon was as such regarding this issue:

Hi, I recently purchased a D600. Serial # is 300xxxxx. I noticed when I take pictures in bright light and higher apertures, there is a blob of oil in the upper left hand corner of the picture. At first I thought it was a sun flare but it is in the same location in all my pictures. I have been keeping in touch with user groups and almost everybody who has bought this camera has an oil leaking issue and it is well known. (here is one source: Please send me a pre-paid shipping label so I can send it to you. Otherwise I will call B&H and ask for a refund. Thank you.

The last file submitted clearly shows 4 spots.

After waiting a day and no response, I was more upset and sent them another email with many more examples.  Still no response.  So I decided to call Nikon.   I spoke with a sassy lady who was in full defense mode.  She denied there was anything wrong with the D600 and expected me to fork over $50 for shipping to send in the brand new one week old camera (with insurance) so they could LOOK at it.  She told me she could send me the link to fill out the paper work so I could send it at my own cost.  I told her not to bother.

Dear Mr. xxxxxx,
Thank you for contacting Nikon regarding the oil spots in your images. As stated this is not a worldwide issue with the camera and if someone calls with the spots in images it will be dealt with accordingly on a case by case base if and when it arises. You must pay to ship camera to us and if your camera is in warranty we pay to ship back. As stated, I will not send the link for service.

Best Regards,

Needless to say, I was in full jerk mode now.

I have been a loyal Nikon customer for 6 years and this is my third camera body. I used to feel Nikon was a company that stood behind their product but in the last year or so, I’ve found that is not the case. As stated, shipping plus insurance is about $50 and that is unreasonable to ask a customer to pay for a new camera’s defects. The fact is you are not standing by your product.

I obviously don’t have access to your internal data, but I have proven to you that this is not an isolated incident. I just spoke with BH Photo Video and they will be happy to pay for shipping both ways to send me a new D600. I suspect that it will also have the same problem, because this is a global problem. If that’s the case, I will send it again and again until I get a product free of defects. Perhaps once the vendors start giving your defective cameras back to you, you will take notice that this is a serious issue and fix it. 

I will also make sure to shame Nikon every chance I get, especially on my blog, flickr, and various review sites. In case you are curious, this was my blog post : Checking the search engine referral data, I had hundreds of searches for “D600 dust issue”. I assure you that the price of losing Nikon’s good reputation is much more than the $50 you saved on shipping. 

It seems as if I’m stuck with Nikon for another 4 years in order to get the return on my investment, but rest assured, the next time I upgrade my camera body, Canon will get a serious consideration.

I will spare you the rest of the emails, but essentially, she doubled down on there was nothing wrong with the camera and it wasn’t a global issue.   So I returned it to BH and got another one which had the same problem.   In my customer survey, I also voiced my displeasure at BH for not putting pressure on Nikon at which point I got a response from their “reputation defender” guy Henry something or rather(google him, he’s well known) saying that this was a non-issue and people just read about it and were panicking for no reason (my summary).   That idiotic statement alone was why I make most of my purchases from Adorama now, but that’s a different story.

As written here already, the next camera I got had the exact same problem.  By now a month had passed and the bad press was just rolling in so it appeared that Nikon was begrudgingly giving free shipping labels if one posted several examples of the spots.  All Nikon did was clean the sensor and send it back.  The problem of course was not solved.

I didn’t want to keep sending in the camera so i would clean the sensor myself over and over and over until it became clear that Nikon was never going to fix this problem. They sent out a nopology of sort of admitting there might be an issue but it’s probably just user error but it was too little too late. Their solution was the D610.   I wrote them again with my displeasure asking for a recall and was told Nikon never recalls anything, ever. And again, there was nothing wrong with the D600 and they stood by it.  So I sent it in again…this time they put in a new shutter….and of course the problem returned.

Eventually I had to get management involved and they refunded my money but the point to this whole post is that Nikon, you did this to yourself.  That very first exchange I had with the sassy lady should have ended with her saying “I’m sorry, we are aware that our shutters is leaving a residue on your sensor, as soon as we know the exact cause, we will issue a recall on the camera”.  That would have been the end of it.   Their reputation would have been strong, and customers would have been happy.

Photographs of Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston
From time to time, the Texas Alaskan Malamute Rescue Association asks me to photograph their rescued dogs for a calendar when they’re doing one in the Houston area. I got started with this in 2008 right after Hurricane Ike and have done 3 calendars so far. Because the idea is for the calendars to raise money for the rescue group (and you should donate to their webpage if you can), I usually only post a few teaser pictures as to not give them away, but since enough time has passed now, I thought I’d post a few from the 2012 calendar which were taken in September of 2011. That was a truly exhausting day as we walked all over downtown in a hot day, had dogs who were not very cooperative at times, and on top of everything, I had to go out of town (to Temple, TX) afterwards (for another long story) so I am pretty proud of how the day went all around.

I noticed they were posting pictures of some their rescue success stories as part of their 11th year anniversary so I wanted to post a few of my favorites. All taken with the Nikon D90 and either the 85mm f/1.8D (which I have now upgraded to 85mm 1.8G) and the 14-24mm f/2.8. I also had help with people holding the light or reflector for me and with proper lighting, the D90 gave beautiful results. By the way, all of these are copyrighted and registered at the copyright office so you know, don’t steal :)

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston

Alaskan Malamutes in Houston


Quick unscientific review of the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

As mentioned before in my previous posts, I am in between camera bodies at the moment. I no longer own my full frame D600 and am using my D90 which is a bit long in the tooth. In fact, when I had my D600, I was really considering selling the D90 because in comparison, the D600 was just so much better. I also had been thinking of upgrading my 80-200mm f/2.8 to something with a bit more reach as I do more wildlife and need more reach. I reluctantly was ok with having VR instead of a constant f/2.8 so I decided to get the new Nikon 80-400 AF-S and took it out to the Houston Rodeo Parade on a hazy day which had light changing constantly.

In the 80-200 days, I would have to use at least a 1/200 shutter speed to be able to shoot handheld on the D600 and on the D90, even more so. It also meant that I couldn’t stop down without raising my ISO. For sports or times that I wanted a fast shutter speed, this was not only ok, but preferred but on days like today, I am more likely to need more depth of field. The picture below was taken at 175mm (265mm 35mm eq) f/5.0, and 1/125th of a second. If I was on full frame, I couldn’t have taken this shot without cropping on my old 200mm lens. This lens is perfect for my needs right now.

US Marine Band

The VR is fantastic. I hadn’t had VR in any of my lenses for the last 4 years or so and during that time had done my best techniques to hold a lens steady but once you see the VR kick in and hold the shot, it almost feels like cheating!

University of Houston Band and flag squads getting ready for parade
220mm (on DX), 1/200th of a second, f/5.6 ISO 400 handheld. Clearly, my shutter speed is too low for the focal length, but the VR didn’t miss a bit.

Ranu Khator on the University of Houston float

This photograph of University of Houston President Ranu Khator was also shot wide open at f/5.0 150mm (dx) 1/320. I’m glad that at 150mm it’s still not at f/5.6 but am impressed at how sharp the picture is wide open and how nice the bokeh is. On the D90 at least, I can’t see any lack of sharpness on this lens compared to a 70-200.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia
Photograph of Sheriff Adrian Garcia with the same settings.

Portrait of a Horse
80mm (shortest end) and f/5.6. Despite the horrible lighting (had to lift the shadows a bit, it’s very nice)

Wheelchair Race
This one is blurry, but that’s my fault. I’m not that great with tracking subjects while they’re moving and then someone got in my way in the next frame when I did kind of get the speed right. The lens does have active mode VR as well for this sort of situation.

I like this lens! I’m sure there will be a time indoors at night that I wish I had f/2.8, but even when I had that, I often missed having VR. If you can live without f/2.8, this lens is absolutely fantastic and doesn’t compromise on built or image quality.